How to be a Kniffelmeister

A look at the past year; on playing the odds, and living in the present moment.

At a cabin in the Austrian mountains, we played Kniffel around the dining table. [Each player has three chances to roll five dice. From what I can tell, Kniffel is basically the same as Yahtzee, except that a player can only get the fifty-point bonus for rolling a Kniffel (five of a kind), one time.] This didn’t seem fair to my mom, who rolled two Kniffels and thought that she should receive two bonuses. I, who didn’t roll any Kniffels, was fine with the rule.

Johannes didn’t roll any Kniffels either. He kept score and made lots of witty comments throughout the game. His parents, one physicist and one chemistry teacher, weighed the odds and tried to play strategically. In the end, though, it all boiled down to chance.

My sister won the game and was dubbed the Kniffelmeister. Later, when Johannes had traveled back to Italy and only I was left to translate, she excitedly set out to explain how the odds strategy that she had been using turned out to be wrong, as shown by this mathematical equation, and this logical train of thought…

I was five years old again, playing word games in the car with my dad and sister. They always tried to include me, but they were just too fast. For “France Pants,” you had to know so many country and city names right off the top of your head, and be able to find a relevant rhyming word. Then, you had to think of a question which included the rhyming word. (Example: Question: Where is a place where they don’t wear any pants? Answer: France).

While I was translating for Johannes’ parents, I had to be fast enough to impart all of the urgency and humor in what my sister was saying. I’m not sure if I succeeded or failed, but we all laughed a lot.

Back home in Berlin, I’ve been thinking a lot about playing the odds. The weather, first of all, has been all over the place. One second it feels almost like spring, with birds chirping and tiny buds popping out of the ground- and then, Bam! It’s ice cold, with sludgy snow on the ground, and people slipping on the sidewalk. People check the weather on their phones multiple times a day because it changes so frequently. I say, why bother? I wear layers and pack a rain poncho, because I never know what’s going to happen.

I’ve done two ballet company auditions so far in 2016, and I see that I can’t apply the odds to the dance business at all. Of course ideally I want to believe that if I invest the work, train regularly, take care of my body, and make a good impression, then it is more likely that I’ll get the job. But that just isn’t always the case. I might have a horrible class, feel terrible about myself, dislike the teacher, and receive a call-back. Maybe I have a good class, push myself to the front, feel good about my performance, and I’m not chosen. At the professional level, I don’t always see a rhyme or reason to who gets chosen. I don’t even know what the odds are. I just keep showing up to play the game.

2015 has been a very eventful year. In the beginning of March I sat with two of my sisters and Johannes at a bar in New Jersey and explained that sometime in the distant future, I could imagine being a dance critic. I sent an email knowing full well that it would probably result in rejection. This February, my fourth article will run in Dance Europe magazine. l am finding a sustainable balance in completing assignments, pushing myself creatively, and staying active as a dancer. It’s not easy, but it’s very satisfying.

We moved to Berlin, the city of my dreams. Before we moved the furniture into the apartment, I rubbed olive oil onto the dull and un-treated wooden floors – two coats over two days. Now the floorboards are warm and alive, and I’d rather be here than anywhere else. We’re on the road a lot; on Wednesday I’ll take the train 10 hours to the north of Italy to see Johannes’ premier of Lulu, returning on Monday. In our line of work, it’s pretty common to not know what will happen three months into the future. But I like my life, and am excited to see what happens next.

At midnight on New Years Eve, we stood high on the mountain, looking over the surrounding cabins and far away tiny towns, and watched fireworks. It’s funny – I stood there trying to think about the past year, but was constantly slung into the present moment. A crash course on being in the here and now: the rush of the frosty air in my nostrils, the colorful blasts all around me, my gloved fingers freezing around the stem of my champagne glass, snowflakes falling into my open eyes.

The future is bound to come, whether we’re ready or not. You can try to apply strategy as you go, or you can pack a poncho in your bag and see what happens.

(first posted on 1/11/2016)

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